SAPS IN CRISIS
No one is safe: Widow Nicolette Kinnear stares down a system that failed a top cop, husband and father
In 2020, Anti-Gang Unit detective Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear was assassinated. In 2021, Ipid completed a damning report revealing extraordinary police ineptitude relating to his murder. The report is the hottest potato among a pile to have landed on Commissioner Fannie Masemola’s desk.
Nicolette Kinnear is not a sideshow to the tragedy that inexorably coagulated around her husband, Anti-Gang Unit (AGU) detective Charl Kinnear, and their sons, Carlisle and Casleigh, in 2020 and that could have been averted.
“Out of the 3,000 occasions they pinged my husband’s phone over a period of time, they chose to kill him outside our family home. Not on his way to work. Not at work. At home,” Nicolette told DM168.
That, for her, makes things personal. Highly personal.
Besides, Nicolette and her sons remain witnesses who will eventually testify in the trial of those who – so far – have been caught in the police dragnet activated after Charl Kinnear’s brazen assassination on the afternoon of 18 September. This included underworld boss Nafiz Modack.
Which is why notice of withdrawal of the family’s security, signed by acting provincial commissioner Major General Thembisile Patekile, eight months after her husband was murdered, left Nicolette reeling.
But, she says, she is not the only vulnerable South African Police Service (SAPS) member who has lived with the threat of having protection withdrawn. (Nicolette has managed to retain security so far, although an assessment in May this year found “no threat”.)
Though Nicolette is aware that she faces risks from elements who are part of the criminal underworld, like her husband, she too is wary of his own colleagues and superiors who have been implicated in his murder.
An October 2021 Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) report, handed to Minister of Police Bheki Cele as well as then SAPS National Commissioner Khehla Sitole (or at least his office) in November, sets this out in no uncertain terms.
The Ipid investigation found that officers in the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (known as the Hawks), as well as its head, General Godfrey Lebeya, had been aware that Charl’s movements were being illegally monitored in the run-up to his assassination, but had failed to act.
It also exposed deep investigative weaknesses, broken chains of command, insufficient experience among AGU staff, as well as a lack of a sense of urgency with regard to pressing matters in a national investigation. It revealed a supine SAPS management that passed the buck with regard to Charl’s safety and who have now been landed with the Ipid hot potato.
Modack, later charged alongside Jacques Cronje and AGU member Ashley Tabisher of plotting to assassinate Charl, was denied bail in January 2022.
Back in 2020 and immediately after Charl’s assassination, Ipid was instructed by Cele, as well as Sitole, to investigate the removal of Charl’s protection 15 days prior to his murder.
In November 2021, Ipid completed the investigation and forwarded a 67-page damning, steaming pile of a report to both Sitole and Cele.
According to investigators, the report (which DM168 has had sight of) was regarded as “final”, although this is now disputed by Cele’s office.
Cele, DM168 has learnt, met with Ipid on 17 May. The directorate met with Nicolette (who has not been forwarded the report) on 24 May 2022.
At the meeting it was revealed that neither the minister nor the national commissioner’s office had made contact with Ipid since receipt of the November report.
Lirandzu Themba, Cele’s spokesperson, said the minister wanted “to make it clear that a preliminary report on Lt Col Kinnear was handed over in November, however the final report was only received in May”.
Once the minister had “applied his mind [he] will in due course report back to Parliament”, she said.
National Commissioner Fannie Masemola’s spokesperson, Colonel Athande Mathe, when approached for comment as to whether the new commissioner had received the report and whether there had been any progress with regard to prosecutions, responded: “The matters referred to are operational and internal in nature and as such the SAPS is not at liberty to discuss these matters through the media.”
The SAPS also did not discuss “security-related matters” with third parties.
Back in February 2021 the police committee made a public commitment to the Kinnear family after considering an unsolicited petition by Nicolette, which she delivered in person in March.
Committee Chair Tina Joemat-Pettersson, at the time, assured the family that the committee “will not leave this matter until we find justice for you and your boys. We will keep this matter on the programme of the committee until we find answers to the questions you have raised.”
Joemat-Pettersson also pointed out the need to “speed up both the internal and criminal investigation into the matter to ensure justice and accountability against those responsible”.
Six months later, the October 2021 Ipid report has still not found its way to the committee.
Spokesperson Malatswa Molepo confirmed this to DM168 but undertook to “ascertain from the Minister and National Commissioner when they intend tabling the report”.
“The committee re-emphasises the view that it will not rest until the Kinnear family gets justice.”
Ipid investigation gets off to bad start
Charl was assassinated in the late afternoon of 18 September 2020 by a lone gunman while seated in his vehicle waiting to pull into his driveway in Bishop Lavis.
Nicolette, Charl’s childhood friend of 32 years and wife for 26 of those, was at work in Tyger Valley when Carlisle called to break the news that his dad had been shot. As she sped home to Bishop Lavis, she knew her husband was dead.
Court proceedings have since made public that there were five failed attempts on Charl’s life prior to 18 September.
It is not as if the family had been taken by surprise. This had been the story of their lives during Charl’s decorated and illustrious career in the SAPS.
Underworld associates Amaal Jantjies, Farek Smith and Janick Adonis are currently facing charges related to the November 2019 failed attack on the Kinnear home.
About a year earlier, in December 2018, Charl Kinnear had penned a 59-page memorandum to his superiors. In this he set out how members who had been seconded to the Crime Intelligence (CI) Unit in the Western Cape were abusing state resources in order to frame senior SAPS officers. He warned his superiors that his life and those of his fellow officers were in danger.
Shortly after Charl’s murder, DM168 learnt that those members the detective had identified in 2018 had themselves been provided with protection. These are the same members named in the Ipid report.
While the Ipid investigation was in progress, Major General Mzwandile Tiyo, who headed CI in the Western Cape and who commanded the “rogue unit”, faced an expeditious process – an internal disciplinary matter into Charl’s security – and had been “cleared” of any culpability.
Ipid noted in its report that therefore any recommendation it made against Tiyo would simply be “academic” and amount to “double jeopardy”, as he had already been acquitted.
Decisions such as these puzzle and unsettle Nicolette Kinnear, who finds herself at the centre of a vast web of interconnected and malevolent interests while trying to make sense and join the dots.
In 2020, Western Cape National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila confirmed that the NPA had declined to prosecute dockets Ipid had forwarded to the authority with regard to the rogue CI members.
Fast-forward to January 2022, when Ipid kicked off its investigation and an unseemly spectacle played out in headlines.
The directorate confirmed that it had lodged criminal charges against Sitole – the national commissioner – for his failure to cooperate with an investigation he had co-instituted. Soon afterwards Ipid lodged a second case, Sunnyside 571/01/2022, against Sitole for failing to comply with section 4, subsection 2 of the Ipid Act.
Sitole, who was found by the courts to have breached his duties as national commissioner with regard to his role in thwarting another Ipid investigation into the “Nasrec grabber”, left the service “by mutual agreement” in February 2022.
After the media flurry and the high-powered visits to the Kinnear family home by Minister Bheki Cele and other officials, after the speeches and vows to avenge Charl’s death, Nicolette and her sons have been left to deal with the aftermath on their own (supported by family, friends and colleagues loyal to Charl).
But if anyone thought she would eventually go away or sit quietly in a corner and wilt, they are mistaken.
“I am not some shrinking widow. I might have lost my husband but I have not lost my brain cells. If anyone is hoping this will all just go away, I have news for them.”
In her March 2021 petition to the Portfolio Committee on Police on behalf of her husband, Nicolette set out the threats the family had faced.
The Kinnear home and family had been an integral part of the greater threat that stalked the life of the decorated policeman who had been investigating his senior SAPS colleagues and their links to underworld figures in a gun-licensing racket.
This is the red zone of police work, where criminality and lawlessness thrive not only from without, but also within.
Charl died, says his wife, because of the threat within.
“This is not only about us. This is about the other detectives doing what my husband was doing. For me it is about the system.
“For me it is like watching Netflix or Showmax, same thing different channel, and I see this playing out again. We are sitting on a time bomb and we need to raise the alarm.”
Charl and his colleagues were working on 20 dockets, which are now in jeopardy, the Ipid investigation found.
What Charl and some of his colleagues knew/know only too well is that about 9,000 government-issue weapons meant for destruction had found a conduit straight into the hands of gangsters across the country – via SAPS officers themselves.
In 2016 Brigadier Chris Prinsloo was sentenced to 18 years but was released early after only serving four years. He is now a state witness.
Mark Shaw, author and director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, notes in his book, Give Us More Guns (Jonathan Ball 2021), that “at a conservative estimate” the guns Prinsloo failed to destroy and sold on between 2010 and 2016 were used in 1,066 murders and 1,430 attempted murders.
“These numbers of killings mean that Prinsloo’s work is, without a doubt, the deadliest single crime to have been committed in post-apartheid South Africa.”
Many of the guns are still out there.
In June 2021, DM168 confirmed that a coalition of NGOs coordinated by Gun Free South Africa was planning a class action that could see the families of those shot with firearms that originated from the SAPS take on the police service and its leaders.
Charl and his team were probing how the Central Firearms Register was/is being abused by SAPS officers to issue gun licences to known underworld figures and criminals.
It was Charl who in 2016 wrote an affidavit to the North Gauteng High Court setting out how Nafiz Modack, the Cape Town crime boss who now stands accused, with others, of plotting Charl’s murder, had been able to illegally obtain licences.
In 2017, Modack, with two 2010 criminal convictions (one related to firearms), registered nine firearms.
That the Ipid report exists has been made known through the leak to DM168 and through confirmation from the directorate of its existence is no real comfort for Nicolette Kinnear.
The question, she asks, is when will there be concrete action?
Nicolette attended a police committee meeting in Parliament this week, where she learnt that in future the committee would have quarterly instead of monthly report-back sessions.
This pushes out the possibility that anything will be decided or any action taken before the end of the year.
That takes us all to December, when Parliament will be in recess, the Kinnear family will celebrate another Christmas without their father, and those implicated in his death will be out in the world, scot-free. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.